Reloading 12 Gauge Shotgun Shells

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Common 12 Gauge 2 3/4 inch Shotgun Shells

The basis for any good shotshell reload is a quality shotshell in good condition. Listed in order of desirability from a reloading standpoint.

Loads from clay target hulls

Target grade shotgun hulls. From L-R; Winchester AA, Remington STS in green and gold, Federal Gold Medal, Federal Gold Medal Paper and Olympic paper

Over the years I have reloaded a number of different brands of shotgun shells, generally with good results for most brands. In 12 gauge, my current preference is for the Remington STS or failing that, the Remington SP hull. In 20 gauge, I have a progressive press set up to load 3/4 ounce loads with Winchester AA hulls but I also like to use Remington hulls for standard 20 gauge loads.

Hulls from game and promotional loads

Game or promotional hulls. From L-R; Remington Gunclub or SP hull,Federal Game hull in red, white and pink, Winchester Universal hull.

Remington SP (Special Purpose) hull
Used by Remington for game loads, "Gun Club" and sport loads. Made of green or black ribbed plastic. Nickel or brass plated steel head. Excellent compression formed hull, crimps well. Very durable, may be reloaded several times. May have 6 or 8 point crimp
Remington STS (Skeet, Trap, Sporting Clays)
I consider the Remington STS hull to be the best hull currently on the market today. It is used by Remington for Skeet, Trap, Sporting Clay loads. The STS shotgun shell is a compression formed hull made of a smooth, shiny green or gold colored plastic with a brass case head. It always has an 8 point crimp.
Winchester AA Hull
When they were still compression formed, the Winchester AA was my favorite hull to reload. It was not quite as stiff as the Remington STS hull but it still formed nice crisp crimps. The redesigned AA hull now has a separate cup like basewad which forms a step preventing some wad columns from seating properly over light charges of dense clean burning powders. The end result sometimes is a blooper shell. Generally this is not a problem with the bulkier powders such as Red Dot or Unique. The hull is smooth and made of a red or silver colored plastic with a brass case head. The AA hull always has an 8 point crimp.
Federal Gold Medal Plastic
Red/Burgandy ribbed Plastic, compression formed plastic base wad with brass case head. This is a good hull but not as popular as the Winchester or Remington target hulls.
Federal Highpower, Federal Game or Federal Top Gun
Ribbed plastic Reifenhauser tube, most commonly dark red in color although may also be found in white, blue or pink "Top Gun" promotional loads. Nickel plated steel head with paper base wad. I have had good success reloading these with 3 dram 1 1/8 ounce loads but the hull's comparitively greater interior volume does not lend itself loads with less than an ounce of shot. Some reloaders are concerned that powder gases might somehow detach the paper basewad from the case. That has never happened to me, however I have never bothered to reload Federal Game hulls more than two or three times.
Winchester Universal
Currently used for winchester's cheap game and target loads. Ribbed plastic Reifenhauser tube with a separate white plastic basewad, red in 12 gauge, yellow in 20 gauge. Case head is made of nickel plated steel. I can't recall seeing any published loading data for it.
Winchester Polyformed
Once used for cheap game loads by Winchester, the Winchester polyformed hull is no longer produced. It is the worst hull that I have ever reloaded. A straight wall hull made of a very soft plastic with plastic flat disk base wad, the shell crimps would mushroom, making the reloaded shells difficult to chamber in autoloaders.
Cut down shells showing basewad types for common shotgun hulls

Basewad types for common shotgun hulls. From L-R Federal promo hull with paper basewad, Remington compression formed basewad, Winchester Universal plastic basewad, Winchester AA plastic basewad.

Why it is Important to First Weigh some Powder Charges before loading

Rarely will a powder bushing throw the exact weight of powder as stated on bushing chart. Machining tolerances, variations in powder density from lot to lot as well as the desire of the reloading machine manufacturer to build in a safety margin will often mean that the charge weight thrown by a given bushing will be off somewhat.

Generally I have found that the charge weights will be on the light side but it can go the other way too.

Too much or too little powder can adversly affect the performance and safety of reloaded shells, which, is why I always throw and measure at least three powder charges from my machine before I start loading to make sure that the proper charge weight is being dispensed. Take for example my 12 gauge Lee Load All, the 0.163 bushing throws and average of 17.9 grains of one lot of Red Dot and 18.3 grains with another lot of Red Dot. According to the Alliant Powder Reloader's Guide, the Lee Load All .155 bushing should throw 18.0 grains of Red Dot but the bushing in my set actually throws about 17.2 grains. It is pretty much the same story with Mec bushings more often than not, I will weigh the powder charge and find that I need to go to the next larger bushing to get the proper charge weight.

25 lb Bag of No. 8 Lawrence Magnum Shot

Clay Target Loads

When I first started reloading for skeet shooting, I scrounged what ever hulls that I could find, a hodge podge of game and target shells of various brands.

Reviewing a number of loading manuals, I cast about for a 12 gauge 1 1/8 ounce load which would allow the greatest flexibility in terms of components so that I would not have to keep changing the powder charge bushing whenever I used a different hull or wad.

I found that a 1 1/8 oz load with 17.0 grains of Hercules Red Dot (now the Alliant brand) filled the bill very nicely. The 17.0 grain charge could be safely be used with the Remington Premier,STS,or SP hulls as well as the Winchester AA hulls in combination with any of the following wads; the Winchester WAA12, Versalite and Federal 12S3 Wads and still stay within the published loading data.

Later as I got better at shooting skeet and trap, I found that I could do just as well with one ounce loads in 12 gauge and then eventually started loading 7/8 ounce loads in 12 gauge.

Shot - oz Wad Powder Primer Hull
7/8 Win WAA 12SL 19.0 Grains Alliant Red dot Win 209 Win WAA
1 1/8Win WAA 1217.0 Grains Alliant Red DotWin 209Rem SP
1 1/8 Win WAA 1219.0 Grains Alliant Red DotWin 209Fed HP - paper basewad
1 1/8 Win WAA 1220.0 Grains Alliant Green DotWin 209Fed HP - paper basewad

20 Gauge Load

My favorite 20 gauge, shot saving load for skeet or 16 yard trap uses a Winchester AA hull, 3/4 ounce of #8 shot, a Winchester WAA20 wad or equivalent, 16.0 grains of Alliant Herco and a Winchester or Remington 209 Primer.

Lee Powder Bushing Chart for Alliant Powders (Units shown in grains)
Bushing # Red Dot    Green Dot Unique  Herco     Blue Dot  2400    
.095 11.0 12.3 14.313.9 18 21.0
.100 11.6 13.0 15.014.6 19 22.1
.105 12.2 13.6 15.815.3 19.9 23.2
.110 12.8 14.3 16.516.1 20.8 24.3
.116 13.5 15.1 17.416.9 22 25.6
.122 14.2 15.8 18.317.8 23.1 27.0
.128 14.8 16.6 19.218.7 24.3 28.3
.134 15.5 17.4 20.119.6 25.4 29.6
.141 16.4 18.3 21.220.6 26.7 31.2
.148 17.2 19.2 22.221.6 28 32.7
.151 17.5 19.6 22.722.0 28.6 33.4
.155 18.0 20.1 23.322.6 29.4 34.3
.163 18.9 21.2 24.523.8 30.9 36
.171 19.8 22.2 25.725.0 32.4 37.8
.180 20.9 23.4 27.026.3 34.1 39.8
.189 21.9 24.5 28.427.6 35.8 41.8
.198 23.0 25.7 29.728.9 37.5 43.8

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